R.C. Patnaik, J.
1. With effect from Oct. 11, 1956, the Central Government introduced Leave Travel Concession (in short, 'L. T. C.') with a view to rendering assistance to its servants serving at places away from their homes for journey to their homes and back to their places of service during regular leave. This concession was extended to journeys to places other than home towns or villages from 1974. The concession was available to a servant and such members of his family as were entitled to travelling allowance on transfer. The journey was to be undertaken by the shortest route and class of accommodation would be the same as the one to which the servant was entitled to under the travelling allowance rules.
2. The petitioners are Class IV employees serving in the Proof and Experiment Establishment at Chandipur in the district of Balasore, under Opposite Party No. 2, the Commandant of the establishment. They availed L. T C. and travelled by train. It has been alleged that petitioners 1 to 5 visited Delhi, petitioners 6 to 8 visited Dwaraka, petitioners 9 and 1ft visited Bombay and petitioners 11 to 16 journeyed to Gulmarg. Petitioners 1 to 10 themselves purchased the railway tickets, petitioners 11 to 16 travelled by Tirtha Special Train. They have alleged that the tickets purchased by them were surrendered at the destination stations. As the Railways have discontinued the practice of granting money receipts, some of them produced receipts from railway officials at Balasore Station indicating the serial numbers of tickets purchased by them in proof of their having undertaken the journey. Those who travelled by Tirth Special Train produced receipts and also certificates granted by the agents certifying that they had actually performed the journey, The opposite party No. 2, however, rejected their claims and directed recovery of the amounts advanced from the salary of the petitioners. The petitioners thereupon moved this Court in O. J. C. No. 270 of 1983. This Court directed opposite party No. 2 to give the petitioners further opportunity to produce materials to satisfy that the travel had actually been make and dispose of the matter. It is alleged that pursuant to the direction of this Court, as aforesaid, opposite party No. 2 issued a notice on 10-3-83 requiring the petitioners to produce materials to satisfy ham that the journeys claimed had actually been undertaken. In reply, the petitioners stated that they had undertaken the journeys and evidence had been produced and they should be informed if the authority required any further evidence. On May 13, 1983, opposite party No. 2 rejected the claims and directed recovery of the amounts advanced from the salary of the petitioners.
3. Petitioners have challenged the rejection of their claims and the direction ior recovery, inter alia, on the following grounds : (a) having regard to the nature of the controversy, the decision was of a quasi-judicial nature, (b) the petitioners had complied with such requirements as contemplated by the rules and the instructions, (c) reaction of their claims and the direction for recovery was based on assumptions and surmises and (d) the decision is contrary to rules and instructions.
4. The opposite parties have filed return, the gist whereof is that the claims were extremely suspicious. The journeys alleged to have been made were in violation of the rules. Claims were not made within the time specified in the rules. In some of the cases, the documents were forged and fraudulent. The claims of the petitioners were examined by a Board of three high ranking officers and opposite party No. 2 also considered the claims and agreed with the decision of the Board. It has also been stated that the claims were liable to be rejected for infraction of the provisions relating to L. T. C. The opposite parties have submitted a chart showing the particulars in regard to each of the petitioners and the reasons for rejection of the claims.
5. The derision of the authority visits the petitioners with civil consequences. So, the nature of the function is not purely administrative. It is of a quasi-judicial character. The process, therefore, has to be fair and reasonable and 'fair play in action' should pervade the exercise. It is an elementary principle of jurisprudence that arbitrariness vitiates a decision. A decision is characterised as arbitrary when it is based on whim or caprice; or on assumptions unfounded in fact or law, or by conducting a proceeding in an unfair manner.
When a quasi-judicial decision affecting rights of a party is reached arbitrarily, it needs no argument to say that the decision is vitiated. There is difference of opinion whether the decision is ab initio void or voidable at the instance of the party aggrieved. The decision is also vulnerable if the authority shuts its eyes to the relevant provision of law or applies , a wrong provision, A decision is also vulnerable if it is perverse, i.e., where no reasonable person placed in the position of person deciding the matter could reach the conclusion reached at. A decision is also bad if principles of natural justice have been violated.
6. In the light of the aforesaid principles, we scrutinise the contentions raised by the petitioners. The chart furnished by the opposite parties along with their counter indicates the grounds on which the claim of each of the petitioners was rejected. The order passed by opposite party No. 2 (Annex.-7) does not specifically mention the ground or grounds on which the claim of each of the petitioners was held not to be entertainable. However, from the chart it is seen that one of the grounds for rejection of the claims was that, the claims were not submitted within 30 days from the, date of completion of the journey. This ground is clearly not tenable. By Office Memorandum F-43/1/72-Estt. (A) dated 22-8-72, the period within which claim is to be preferred has been prescribed as one year from the date of completion of the return journey. Hence one of the grounds for rejection of the claims was non-existent. The petitioners contended that the railway tickets had been surrendered at the destination stations and the Railways had discontinued the practice of granting cash-receipts. Before making the claims, the petitioners approached the railway authorities to certify that tickets had been purchased by them. Some documents were issued to them showing the ticket numbers. The opposite party No. 2 rejected those documents on the ground that the signatures appearing thereon were forged.
7. Allegation of forgery is a grave charge. Fraud or forgery has criminal overtone. Such conclusion is not lightly to be reached nor can suspicion or doubt be the foundation for the charge. The allegation has to be established on positive materials. It has not been indicated to us that opposite party No. 2 made an attempt at reaching at the truth. In our opinion, branding of the receipts as fraudulent without a proper verification but only on the basis of suspicion or doubt, was unwarranted.
8. In our opinion, the administrative authority, which was exercising quasi-judicial powers while deciding the claims, was obliged to proceed on grounds germane to the issues and not on grounds which were irrelevant or unfounded. We have shown that certain of the grounds on which the decision was founded are contrary to the provisions governing L. T. C. Certain assumptions were made on suspicion or doubt. We say no more as these are enough to vitiate the decision.
9. We, therefore, quash the decision as per Annex.-7 and also Annex.-B and direct the opposite party No. 2 to consider the claims of the petitioners afresh, each case separately on acceptable materials and not on suspicion or doubt and in accordance with law. The grievance of the petitioners has been that they were kept in dark as to what were the shortcomings in the claims. Had they been made aware of the defects or deficiencies, they could have made good or explained This contention appears to us to be reasonable and fair. The opposite party No. 2 would, therefore, while dealing with the claim of each of the petitioners separately, should indicate the defect or deficiency so that the party would be in a position to make good, if possible.
10. The writ application is accordingly allowed. We make no order as to costs.
B.K. Behera, J.
11. I agree.